The Next Big Thing
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Case Management for Project Management

The OMG (Object Management Group) is in the early stages of development of a Case Management Process Modeling (CMPM) specification.  The topic of this post is to consider the relevance of case management to project management.  Case management involves business processes that cannot be defined ahead of time, but are defined and adapted based on evolution of the particular undertaking.

I first talked about case management in Case Management: The Missing Link in BPM.  More recently I discussed Case Management for Managers in which I explored how automation might assist managers in managing and coordinating activities to achieve business objectives.

For case management, a process is not designed for repeated use.  Instead a process is planned interactively for the particular case as it evolves.  An initial plan for a case may specify everything that is needed to reach an objective assuming everything goes as expected, or it may be as little as the things currently being done and some consequential action such as the next activities or a session to plan what to do next.  In either case, the actual plan is expected to be adapted in response to actual needs and events.  This is similar to the actual process of many project management efforts except that project management usually relies on a pre-defined project plan with corrective action for deviations.

Modeling for case management includes the specification of various patterns-what we have been calling process fragments in discussions of the CMPM specifications.  These fragments have dependencies on inputs and may produce outputs that subsequent activities depend upon.  A case management effort will involve the specification of these fragments along with specific activities and events to evolve what needs to be done and when.  The model for a type of case may define the high-level phases that are typical of such cases.  The pre-defined fragments will incorporate insights and best practices at a finer level of granularity so that they can be leveraged for many undertakings.  Over time these fragments can be refined and extended to improve the efficiency, timeliness and quality of case management.

I'll use the Eclipse Process Framework (EPF) and the Open Unified Process (OpenUP) as a basis for considering the impact of case management on project management.  EPF is a set of open source tools developed by the Eclipse Foundation for managing development processes, and OpenUP is a methodology and associated process patterns for software engineering that is supported by EPF.  EPF implements SPEM (Software and Systems Process Engineering Metamodel), a development process modeling specification from the OMG.

In case management, the primary process structure of OpenUP can be used as case phases supported by the OpenUP patterns as process fragments the same as with EPF.  The difference is that the process can be continuously updated with the addition or modification of process fragments at runtime, as the project progresses and evolves and as more becomes known.  Case management will also track project activities including the addition or repetition of activities that actually occur in a project.  Tracking will provide insight for further improvement of the planning fragments for future projects.

EPF would allow the development process to be adapted, but adaptation is expected to be an off-line activity.  Case management can exploit the availability of the Internet and mobile devices to go beyond traditional project management with monitoring and responding to events and engaging participants more directly.  Management of the activities and adaptation of the process involves on-going interaction with participants.  The activities may also be more fine-grained to track progress and changes more closely.  Activities in the case management process may engage outside services and track their completion.  In addition, the case file will maintain access to information artifacts that define the state of the project and flag events that drive subsequent tasks, planning and decision-making.

I believe these added capabilities will foster project management that is more responsive, more closely tracks project progress, improves collaboration and communications, reduces delays through prompting based on events, and provides history to reduce delays and improve efficiency and quality of results.

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About the Author(s)
  • Steve Simske is an HP Fellow and Director in the Printing and Content Delivery Lab in Hewlett-Packard Labs, and is the Director and Chief Technologist for the HP Labs Security Printing and Imaging program.